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The 14 government IT projects on the DTA's 'engage' list worth over AU$10m

The Bureau of Meteorology, Human Services, Education, Finance, Defence, Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Bureau of Statistics, Veterans Affairs, and the Federal Court all have high-cost IT projects being watched closely by the Digital Transformation Agency.

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) is closely monitoring 14 high-cost IT projects currently underway by federal government entities.

The DTA in early 2017 was charged with looking into the structure of existing Australian government technology projects over AU$10 million, and currently, there are 80 "non-secret" IT-related projects that fit the bill.

The DTA "monitors, verifies, and engages" with the programs, it said, and labels them as at one of those three stages.

Getting on the agency's "engage" list means the project, already exceeding AU$10 million in government expenditure, is either highly complex, has a wide community reach, or the DTA has highlighted a declining confidence in delivery.

Here are the projects featured on the engage list at some stage.

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Government IT projects featured on the DTA's 'engage' list

Image: Asha McLean/ZDNet

The first project is the ROBUST scope of work from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM). ROBUST is described by the DTA as a full architectural review, followed by a refresh, of the bureau's IT systems to "ensure a modern, modular, future-fit, inherently secure, and resilient ICT landscape".

The BOM told Senate Estimates this week it had spent approximately AU$6.1 million on ROBUST, but according to AusTender, the BOM has contracted over AU$12.7 million-worth of procurement for the project.

See also: BOM claims coincidence in pair of cryptocurrency-related incidents

Claiming commercial-in-confidence on the specifications of ROBUST, the BOM is tight-lipped on what the project entails, but it said completion is currently slated for June 2022.

The DTA said it has engaged with ROBUST given the large budget, complexity, multi-year timeframe of the project, as well as its cybersecurity risks.

"Engagement includes representation on two of the program's governance boards; input into the program's procurement strategy, security review, the development of business cases for investment; monitoring the delivery of the current phase and overall security posture; and assisting with benefits management," the DTA's engage list reads.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) makes an appearance twice on the list, for its Modernising Health and Aged Care Payments project and the second tranche of the billion-dollar Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) initiative.

The DTA has allocated resources to the aged care project in a bid to support its agile delivery. The project is redesigning the 30-year-old aged care payment system and DHS has already made a "significant" investment in it.

"The DTA has worked in partnership with Health, DHS, and DVA on the long-term vision for the program and helped shape the business case for remediation and stabilisation, focusing on a cost-effective program of work, improvements to the user experience, and the early delivery of benefits," the DTA said.

Human Services is a few years into the WPIT project, and is currently overhauling Australia's 30-year-old payment system that processes over AU$100 billion in Centrelink payments each year.

Labelled the biggest digital transformation the government has embarked on to date by former Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge, WPIT is expected to take seven years to complete.

The DTA is monitoring WPIT given it will affect over 50 percent of Australian households, as well as how much money the project will chew through.

Meanwhile, the department's National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) full IT solution program was formally closed by DHS in November 2017, and as such, the DTA moved the program from engage status to "monitor".

Monitoring is expected to continue until the "residual program benefits are realised", the DTA said.

See also: Government blunders stall rollout of NDIS virtual assistant

The Department of Education (DOE) has two projects the DTA is monitoring, with one, the Australian Apprenticeship Management System (AAMS) project, binned on Friday following a number of delays and a doubling in cost.

The project, awarded to NEC in October 2015 and worth an initial AU$10 million, was intended to deliver a new IT system to replace the Training and Youth Internet Management System which supports Australian Apprenticeships.

The AAMS ultimately did not meet "business needs", after the cost of the project blew out to nearly AU$20 million. The next step from the DTA is to "work closely" with DOE on "lessons learned" from the failed project.

The other project the DTA is engaged with from DOE is its Child Care Reform overhaul, which will see an "end-to-end" reform for child care subsidiary arrangements, including the combining of multiple IT systems into one.

Although the DTA appears confident in the delivery of the Child Care Reform, it was revealed during a probe from the Finance and Public Administration References Committee in March that DHS has paused the upgraded child support system, Pluto, and is instead still using the old Cuba system, which was flagged in 2009 as reaching end-of-life at the end of 2017.

After spending all of its AU$103.2 million child support system upgrade budget, the department admitted to merely delivering staff an interface and providing some online users with an updated website.

The DTA is more positive on the fate of the Child Care Reform overhaul than it was on the AAMS, and the project is slated for go-live in July this year.

The department did have a third project on the engage list, but the NAPLAN Online project was downgraded to monitor in April after the DTA claimed confidence in its 2020 delivery.

The Department of Finance has three projects being watched: Streamlining Government Grants Administration Program, the Digital Records Transformation, and the Parliamentary Expenses Management System (PEMS).

The DTA isn't too concerned over the three projects from the Scott Morrison-led department, noting it is mainly engaged with Finance due to the "inherent risks involved" in implementing multi-agency programs.

The Department of Defence is on the engage list twice, for its End User Computing (Next Generation Desktop Project) and the JP2047 Phase 3 Terrestrial Communications.

The first project sees the department replace its existing desktop environment, including the purchase of new PCs, communications, and supporting network infrastructure.

The DTA is engaged due to the sort of budget that such an overhaul requires.

See also: How Australia's Department of Defence is using IBM Watson

The Terrestrial Communications project appears heavy on the cybersecurity front, with the DTA engaging Defence to discuss lessons learnt from similar projects undertaken by the Commonwealth.

According to the DTA, it is facilitating the exchange of information -- collaboration -- between other agencies and Defence for this project.

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet's (PM&C) Data Integration Partnership for Australia -- a project seeing Malcolm Turnbull's office build a "robust, secure, and scalable" whole-of-government data integration and analysis capability for public servants to provide better policy advice to PM&C -- is also on the engage list, given the cross-agency reliance the project has.

See also: Turnbull commissions capability review of Australia's Public Service

Following the less than satisfactory 2016 Census, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has its 2021 Census on the DTA's engage list.

After the failure that was the last Census, the DTA said it is coaching ABS staff on the use of agile. There isn't any mention of helping the bureau in preparing to respond to the tiniest definition of a DDoS attack, however.

Read more: Census 2016: A case study in the confluence of failure

Department of Veterans Affairs has its Veteran Centric Reform on the engage list as it relies on the WPIT program, and other agencies, before completion can occur. The DTA is also "providing assurance over the website modernisation component of the program".

The Federal Court Australia's technology transformation is also under the watch of the DTA, with the agency saying it is engaged "because of the critical need for ongoing business function sustainability, the digital transformation of the court system, and the improvements to external user experience".

"The DTA is fulfilling a formal assurance role," it said.

The DTA is also probing itself, with the DTA Whole of Government Platforms project currently in engage phase.

The description of the project is to deliver to private beta a pilot set of services using whole-of-government platforms.

See also: DTA seeks identity validation platform for Govpass program

"The DTA has been able to draw on its own experience in monitoring the delivery of other projects and programs being undertaken to establish an appropriate governance structure," it explained.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) had its Super Stream Data Standards and Ecommerce project downgraded to monitor in March, while the Single Touch Payroll (STP) project was downgraded to monitor last month.

The ATO insists it is ready for the rollout of the STP at the start of the 2019 financial year.

During Senate Estimates on Monday night, concerns were raised over the DTA's ability to proactively prevent government IT projects from suffering the same fate as Education's AAMS.

According to the DTA, each round of data collection from the 80 IT projects the DTA is monitoring occurs every two to three months.

Ultimately, however, the DTA asserts that the accountability of identifying and reporting issues with IT projects lies with agency heads and their ministers.

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